Monthly Archives: October 2021

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The Hideaway by Pam Smy

The Hideaway tells the story of a boy, Billy McKenna, who runs away from a difficult situation at home and takes refuge in an overgrown graveyard. While hiding there he meets an elderly man who is tending the graves in preparation for a day in November when something magical is set to happen.

The book is written in two alternating narratives, both different aspects of the same story. One thread tells of Billy’s experience of hiding away in the graveyard, his mixed-up feelings and emotions, and the supernatural events he eventually witnesses. The other tells of his mother’s situation at home and the police search for Billy. Covering themes of family, childhood, separation and reunion, domestic violence and doing the right thing, this is an important and beautiful book for middle grade readers right up to adults.

Billy’s story is illustrated throughout with tonal and textured black and white drawings, until the event on All Souls’ Eve, when the text gives way to a series of double page images of the supernatural happening.

The Hideaway is a compelling, exciting and emotional story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page.

Pavilion Books

Pam Smy is such an interesting illustrator, Thornhill is a wonderfully unique book (shortlisted for the Carnegie Award), so I was very excited to be sent a review copy of her 2nd novel The Hideaway…which is haunting and sad and uplifting and will really stay with you…and then even more excited to ask her a few questions! And of course, the most appropriate book to highlight for Halloween!

Which aspect of The Hideaway came to you first?

The scene-setting of The Hideaway came to me first. The graveyard where it is set is a real place here in Cambridge, and it has the chapel in the middle, the row of yew trees, the poem carved into the back wall, and most importantly, the World War 2 pillbox. The combination of the meaning of the poem All Souls’ Night by Frances Cornford and the idea that someone could use the pillbox to hide away sparked the idea for the book.

Thornhill was alternate chapters, a wholly illustrated contemporary voice and a historical diary, while The Hideaway is an illustrated story. Did you draw and write at the same time or had you mainly got the words down before choosing which sections to illustrate?

With Thornhill I wrote the text and made the rough drawings for the story in turn, so both elements of the story evolved at the same time. With The Hideaway I wrote the manuscript first, and then illustrated it – but I knew that I wanted there to be a wordless sequence in it from the outset and I knew what I wanted the feeling of the graveyard to look like in the illustrations.

Do you lay out the pages alone or with a designer?

For The Hideaway I worked directly into an InDesign document so that I could move the text around the illustrations I was making, and the very patient designer, Ness Wood, tidied it all up at the end.

They’re both a bit spooky with extremely atmospheric illustrations, very suitable for Halloween season, is the supernatural your favourite genre to read?

I read a variety of books. I love books about people and relationships, and stories that are set in the past or in rural environments. I also love crime novels. I read a lot of picture books and illustrated books of all kinds for all ages. I wouldn’t say that I especially read supernatural books, although they are certainly on my bookshelf.

I think I am drawn to write and illustrate spooky books because I love making atmospheric artwork, and building a world that is based on the everyday, but is different from what we may typically see – but without tipping into fantasy or sci-fi.

You’ve also published a picture book, Merrylegs! Three very different books, which was most enjoyable to work on?

I enjoyed making the artwork to The Hideaway the best. I was trying to work without using much linework – so it was a new challenge for me.

The Mermaid in the Millpond, written by Lucy Strange and illustrated by you, is being published in January by Barrington Stoke. Do you find it easier or harder when the words aren’t your own?

Both easier and harder. If I am illustrating my own ideas the vision of those illustrations is already in my head, and the excitement and the challenge is to get that across on paper. When I am illustrating someone else’s writing it is a joy to be able to bring to life the words, and to add atmosphere or understanding to what is being described. I love illustrating other people’s texts, especially if the art direction and design layout isn’t too prescriptive and I have a little bit of a free reign.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I am reading and re-reading Captain Rosalie by Timothee de Fombelle, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. I am recommending it to everyone I know, and buying copies of it to send to my friends. I think everyone who is 6 and over should read it. It is a beautiful piece of writing and Arsenault’s illustrations are absolutely stunning. Also by my bedside is While You’re Sleeping by Mick Jackson and John Broadley, and All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison.

What might we see from you next?

I am working on developing a few collaborations at the moment which I am VERY excited about, but can’t say anything about yet.

The Hideaway by Pam Smy is published by Pavilion Books, out now, 14.99 hardback.

HOW DO YOU LIVE? by Genzaburo Yoshino

How Do You Live?: Yoshino, Genzaburo, Navasky, Bruno, Gaiman, Neil:  9781616209773: Amazon.com: Books

First published in 1937, Genzaburō Yoshino’s How Do You Live? has long been acknowledged in Japan as a crossover classic for young readers. Academy Award–winning animator Hayao Miyazaki has called it his favorite childhood book and announced plans to emerge from retirement to make it the basis of a final film. 
 
How Do You Live? is narrated in two voices. The first belongs to Copper, fifteen, who after the death of his father must confront inevitable and enormous change, including his own betrayal of his best friend. In between episodes of Copper’s emerging story, his uncle writes to him in a journal, sharing knowledge and offering advice on life’s big questions as Copper begins to encounter them. Over the course of the story, Copper, like his namesake Copernicus, looks to the stars, and uses his discoveries about the heavens, earth, and human nature to answer the question of how he will live.

There are a lot of books that get given the title ‘classic’, not all of them deserve that, but for How Do You Live? that title is richly deserved! Re-edited and published in Japan many times over 80 years

For people who can only read books in English this is a rare treat! As more and more books from outside the English canon are translated we see more into the cultural milieu of other nations. The story questions militarism and the rise of martial society, which in the time it was originally written and published is really quite amazing!

Read this work before Miyazaki’s movie is released (it will give you instant street cred in the eyes of all the fans of Studio Ghibli’s works)

Power Born of Dreams: My Story is Palestine

What does freedom look like from inside an Israeli prison?

A bird perches on the cell window and offers a deal: “You bring the pencil, and I will bring the stories,” stories of family, of community, of Gaza, of the West Bank, of Jerusalem, of Palestine. The two collect threads of memory and intergenerational trauma from ongoing settler-colonialism. Helping us to see that the prison is much larger than a building, far wider than a cell; it stretches through towns and villages, past military check points and borders. But hope and solidarity can stretch farther, deeper, once strength is drawn of stories and power is born of dreams. Translating headlines into authentic lived experiences, these stories come to life in the striking linocut artwork of Mohammad Sabaaneh, helping us to see Palestinians not as political symbols, but as people.

How can something so beautiful be so heart-breaking?

I ask myself that each time I pick up Power Born of Dreams… three time snow I have read this book each time I have spent ages poring over the pages admiring the stark beauty emanating from the pages of this work of art that Mohammad Sabaahneh has created. I learned the art of linocut when I was in school, but Mohammad has elevated the simple act of slicing shapes out of linoleum he cut into the history of his time as a political prisoner and the stories of Palestinians, living their lives under a brutal occupation, fenced in with electronic eyes watching them every day and night. These are stories of heartache and loss and of hope. These are some of the stories of Palestine.

It may be the fact that I grew up in South Africa during apartheid that makes me sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people. Having heard the stories from my friends and fellow South Africans of colour of what they experienced the dehumanising and degrading treatment at the hands of the white minority government has made me resolute in my opposition to oppression wherever it may occur.

In time I can see Mohammad Sabaahneh joining Joe Sacco, Art Spiegelman and other cartoonists in the lists of those who have used their art to open the eyes of the world to the iniquities suffered by so many.

Power Born of Dreams: My Story is Palestine was created by Mohammad Sabaahneh and will be published in November by Street Noise Books.

Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero

Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life in the small town of Frey, Texas—and nearly that long waiting for the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can win. Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks—an anniversary that has everyone in his family on edge. After reading his uncle’s journal from that time, Yusuf feels like he almost understands what that nationwide fear and anger felt like. But when certain people in town start to say hateful things to Yusuf and his community, he realizes that the anger hasn’t gone away. And soon he will have to find the courage to stand up to the bullies, with understanding, justice, and love.

Saadia Faruqi

I really enjoyed Saadia Faruqi’s previous middle grade book, A Thousand Questions, so was very happy to host an interview with her for the blog tour for her new title, Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero.

Why did you decide to write about the attacks of September 11, 2001, knowing that your readers may
not care about an event that happened so long before their births?

The events of 9/11 and everything that happened afterwards – the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the
changes to regulations of airport security, the suspicion of anyone who was “different” – were so
monumental that they literally changed the world. It was worrying to me that an entire generation of
readers were not too concerned about this event even though their lives too were affected by it in a
myriad of ways. Although generally young readers find it hard to connect with historical events, 9/11
was different for two reasons: it was very much alive in the mind of readers’ parents and grandparents;
and it affected how many of the readers and their families were treated in their communities. That’s
why I decided to write a book about the last twenty years and showcase history in a very contemporary
context for children.

Are any of the characters in Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero inspired by real people?

Every author puts pieces of themselves or people they know in the books they write. None of the
characters in this book is based on a single person, but there are some parts of me and my family and
friends in them. Even the main villain Trevor Grant is based on a pretty horrible person I once met! Yusuf
himself is a little like my son at that age – sweet and nerdy and just trying to go through life without
attracting any attention. He was also treated unfairly and unkindly by his classmates and teachers when
he was younger, and it’s very much affected his behavior in small ways. So I definitely had that in mind
as I was writing Yusuf’s scenes… just that feeling of uncertainty and discomfort. I love putting the nicest
characters into situations that test them, which is what happens to Yusuf and his friends.

This book is mostly contemporary, based in current times with mention of the pandemic and white
supremacist groups and so much more. Yet there’s also twenty-year-old journal entries. How did you
manage that balance of time periods?

I decided to set the main story in current times because I know young readers identify better with
contemporary settings. They want to know why they should read a story, what’s the pull for them? I also
didn’t want to write a historical novel because in my mind 9/11 isn’t really a historical event, even
though it’s twenty years old. It’s current because there are millions of people feeling it’s repercussions
all over the world even today, whether it’s because a family member is in the army in Afghanistan, or
they’re a Muslim boy who gets teased in school, or they’re randomly selected for additional screening
every time they enter an airport. So I knew I wanted to base this story very firmly in the present, to
showcase the rise of intolerance, of white nationalism, and all the horrible ways outsiders are treated
every single day. The journal entries are written every three chapters, as a window into the world
twenty years ago, and in very strategic ways they draw parallels to the action in the contemporary part
of the story.

Many readers are not aware of how Muslims were treated after the attacks of September 11. As a
Muslim, did you experience any of the prejudices described in this book?

I was in college when the attacks happened, and immediately after I escaped notice because I didn’t
look visibly Muslim. I didn’t wear the hijab, which was a huge red flag for people in those days – and still
is. But in the years after the attacks, as I grew more confident about my religious and cultural identity,
including wearing the hijab, I certainly faced prejudice from my coworkers, neighbors, parents of my
kids’ friends… the list is endless and exhausting. I also saw many of my family go through these things,
and it was obvious that anybody who was “other” was being targeted. It only made me more firm in my
belief that we needed to talk about these issues, describe what was happening, so that we could make
changes.

This is a book with emotionally heavy topics. How did you ensure that it was appropriate and
understandable for younger readers?

Yusuf Azeem definitely has emotionally charged scenes. A lot of pretty awful things happen to Yusuf and
his friends and family in the book. I didn’t want to shy away from that trauma because I wanted to show
reality, and I know readers are brave enough and curious enough to want to know the truth. I also want
readers who go through bullying to know that they’re not alone. However, overall this book isn’t a sad
book. There are jokes and laughter, funny characters who bring comedic relief. There is an intense
robotics competition and a robot called Miss Trashy. Overall, there is a hopeful ending as Yusuf’s
community rallies together and helps him, and showcases ways that one can be an ally to others.

What do you want readers to do after reading Yusuf Azeem?

I’d like readers to learn more about 9/11 from a variety of perspectives. I’d also like them to discuss this
topic from the adults in their lives – parents, teachers, family friends – to understand what it was like in
those days. Also ask adults if they know about the discrimination faced by the Muslim community. They
will be surprised to know that many adults are also unaware of the far-reaching repercussions of 9/11.
Talking about these repercussions is the first step to healing and making changes.

You’ve written books for children of all ages, specifically the popular Yasmin series. Which category do
you like to write best?

I love writing for all ages. Each of my books has a slightly different aim and purpose. The Yasmin books
are about a little girl from an immigrant family, doing everyday things at school and in her
neighborhood. These stories help give young readers the confidence they need, while also teaching
about tolerance and welcoming communities. Yasmin is based on my own daughter, so that may be one
of my favorite characters ever! On the other hand, my middle grade novels like Yusuf Azeem Is Not A
Hero focus on real-world challenges that children face when they look different, or when their families
and culture are seen as “other”. These books are about allyship, and as such they have a special place in
my heart as well.